For Chennai Super Kings, IPL 2020 has been a season of what-ifs. And the latest of those questions seemingly is: would their season have been any different had Ruturaj Gaikwad played more than just the five matches he has so far? Following Gaikwad's second match-winning fifty in a row, MS Dhoni said that his positive Covid-19 report before the start of the tournament played a big role in how little he featured in the first half of the tournament.
"Ruturaj has shown the talent that we had seen in the net sessions, but unfortunately he came in, got positive with Covid-19 and you usually get well in 12 days but it took him 20 days and we didn't have much time to look at him," Dhoni told host broadcaster Star Sports after the match. "At the end of the day, he will really remember this season because he was able to showcase the talent he has. He is among the most talented youngsters going around, especially the way he batted last few games."
Gaikwad, speaking at the post-match presentation, said dealing with Covid-19 was difficult, but the experience made him stronger. He also said that scores of 0, 5 and 0 in his first three games after finally breaking into the team didn't really affect his confidence.
"This Covid has made me tough," he said. "As you know our captain always says that 'face any situation with a smile.' That's what I was trying to do. It was difficult. It made me stay in the present, not thinking too much about the future or staying in the past.
"Confidence was there [after three low scores]. I backed myself because I knew that I got out in those games where the situation was tough. It was just a matter of time. Thankfully both [fifties] have come in winning ways, so more happy with that."
According to Dhoni, Gaikwad - who was bought for INR 20 lakh at the auctions before IPL 2019 but did not play that season - is one of the "most exciting talents" in Indian cricket. However, Dhoni said, it was hard to gauge Ruturaj's temperament following his rocky start in CSK colours - stumped very first ball after skipping down to Rajasthan Royals' Rahul Tewatia - given the team management could not observe him closely in the lead up to the tournament due to his illness, and Gaikwad is "not somebody who speaks a lot".
"Once he started going in the innings [against KKR], you could see that he was hitting the ball the way he wants to, and he was planning his batting as to how he wants to do. As a youngster, I think that's what you need to do.
"When we made him play his first game, he got out first ball. So from the outside, we hadn't seen him during the lockdown period and makes it slightly more difficult for us to understand whether it was the pressure that made him step out or it's his natural game. But one game is never enough.
"Looking at how he has played in the nets and how he has held on to the opportunity... it is very exciting."
The wiry Gaikwad might not talk much, but, his Man-of-the-Match Award clasped in his hands, he was a game for a little laugh, saying with a grin: "I do work hard in the gym and I have a six pack and all."